In Vienna, the Christmas markets are in full swing now. The largest and most famous in the Christkindlmarkt held in the Rathausplatz and while, so far, the weather hasn't turned the pavements white with snow, the mingling aromas of mulled wine, spiced punch, roasting chestnuts and fried potatoes waft through the air and bring memories of crackling fires and toasty warm toes.
You won't find a town or village that doesn't do something special at Christmas. There is always a massive tree and local folk will gather around it to sing traditional Christmas hymns and carols. My own personal favourite is Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. In English this is, of course, Silent Night, Holy Night. I remember one evening I was outside the Schönbrunn Palace, where there is another large Christmas Market. A choir was singing and I heard the first few familiar bars. Then they - an Austrian choir - proceeded to sing it in English. I felt robbed! To console myself, I absolutely had to drink a mug of Glühwein. Strangely I felt much better after that. Wonder why...
It is the tradition in Austria to place, or hang, an advent wreath in your living room. This is woven from evergreen twigs, decorated with ribbons and four candles. I always place mine on the dining table, but everyone has their own preference.
On December 4th, so tradition has it, St Nicholas, accompanied by the devil (Krampus), asks children for a list of their good and bad deeds for the year. If the devil hears of any misdeed, he will try and hit the offending child with a stick, but St Nicholas intervenes, sends the child running and protects them from the devil. In fact, St Nicholas and Krampus are frequently young men of the neighbourhood, dressed suitably for the occasion, as in the picture.Then, on December 6th, good children are rewarded with sweets, nuts and toys.
In Austria, despite the attempted coup by the American commercial version of Santa Claus, children believe that it is the Christkind (Christ child) who brings their presents. The same emotional blackmail is used by parents though. If you're not a good boy or girl, the Christkind will pass you by and you won't have any presents! Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, the children wait until they hear a bell tinkling. They can then enter a room, where they will find the Christmas tree beautifully decorated and their presents underneath. Families then gather and sing carols together before wishing each other Frohe Weinachten and opening their presents.
There is also a tradition for a procession of carol singers carrying a manger, from house to house - a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter.
Turkey may be the traditional dish for many in Britain and elsewhere but Austrian families who like to stick with tradition will be enjoying a feast of baked carp. Trust me, cooked properly, it's delicious. If that isn't to your taste though, you'll find another fine old Austrian tradition is roast goose. If you follow this LINK you'll find great recipes for both.
For now, all that is left is for me to wish you all: